Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia © Australia’s Coral Coast
Australia’s best snorkelling spots
Australia offers a vibrant array of marine treasures. Here's where to snorkel to see them for yourself.
By Bonnie Jackson
Australia's natural scenery isn't only a spectacular show above sea level. Take a dip beneath the surface and you'll be treated to a rainbow of coloured corals, tropical fish, massive rock formations and historic shipwrecks. Jump into one of these incredible snorkelling spots to experience it for yourself.
On Heron Island, you can walk straight off the beach into a spectacular snorkelling experience. Gear up to spot bright blue starfish and giant sea cucumbers. Getting here is easy. Fly into Gladstone (a one-hour flight from Brisbane) and take a boat or helicopter transfer to the island.
As Australia’s second largest coral reef, Ningaloo Marine Park is the perfect place to go snorkelling. The reef stretches along 260km (162mi) of coastline and is easiest to access from the town of Exmouth, which is just a two-hour flight north from Perth. Cruise out to the reef with Ningaloo Reef Dive to spot some of the 500 species of fish and a wide variety of marine life that live in these waters, including the majestic whale shark.
How to experience it: Swim around 500m (1,600ft) from the shore into the shallow waters to witness the best view of the reef.
Lord Howe Island
Snorkelling at Lord Howe Island, which is only a two-hour flight from Sydney, is a truly special experience. Not only will you be one of just 400 visitors allowed on the island at any one time, you will also have your choice of snorkelling location just beyond the shore at Lagoon Beach, Ned's Beach, Old Settlement Beach, Erscott’s Hole or Blinky Beach. Take your pick!
In the calm waters of Baird Bay, 284km (176mi) from Port Lincoln in South Australia, you can snorkel with resident pods of bottlenose dolphins and inquisitive sea lions in their natural environment. Snorkelling with the sea lions takes place in a safe shallow area, while the dolphins swim in deeper ocean. Both are suitable for all levels of swimmer.
For a truly memorable experience with some of the sea's most unusual creatures, join the Swim with the Giant Cuttlefish tour in South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. This two-day tour, which operates during the cuttlefish migration season in July, is packed with added benefits that include exclusive cuttlefish insights by a marine expert, sightseeing through the wilderness of the Southern Flinders Ranges and hiking along the rugged Alligator Gorge in the Mount Remarkable National Park.
How to experience it: This is a popular tour, so be sure to book in advance.
Lady Elliot Island
On the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef lies Lady Elliot Island, accessible only by scenic flight from Brisbane, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay or the Gold Coast. The island has a world-class eco resort committed to protecting the surrounding reef environment. Manta rays are a common sight around here, so prepare to share the waters with some aquatic friends.
How to experience it: Snorkel at high tide for the best chance to see manta rays, turtles and dolphins amongst the coral reef.
The marine environment surrounding Rottnest Island includes a huge number of secluded beaches and incredible snorkelling spots. Popular spots for snorkellers include The Basin, Parakeet Bay, Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay and Little Armstrong Bay. Rottnest is just a short ferry ride from Perth, but you’ll feel a world away.
How to experience it: Head to the snorkel trails in Parker Point or Little Salmon Bay where information panels are attached to the seabed below the surface.
Just off the coast of Cairns is Michaelmas Cay, a small sand island only 360m (1,200ft) long and 50m (165ft) wide. On a day trip with Wave Dancer Low Isles, you can visit the cay to snorkel the surrounding reef (which is known for having an abundance of giant clams) and learn about the 23 species of seabirds that use the island as a habitat during migration.
How to experience it: If you'd rather stay dry, join the semi-submersible viewing tour, where you can view the reef from the bottom of the boat.
Just north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge lies the beachy suburb of Manly, home to the calm, clear waters of Shelly Beach. You can snorkel straight off the beach here, and an EcoTreasures tour will help you discover more than 200 fish species, including the famous blue groper.
The Low Isles
The holiday town of Port Douglas in northern Queensland is one of the best places to access the Great Barrier Reef. Just 15 minutes away by boat is the Low Isles, where you can snorkel among corals beside the local population of sea turtles.
How to experience it: You can visit the Low Isles on a half-day or full-day trip with Reef Sprinter.